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Germany's Muslims between assimilation and confrontation - Daily Star, Lebanon

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  • Zafar Khan
    Germany s Muslims between assimilation and confrontation By Mohammad Daraghmeh Thursday, September 16, 2004
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 16 12:57 PM
      Germany's Muslims between assimilation and
      By Mohammad Daraghmeh
      Thursday, September 16, 2004


      During a recent conference held by the Goethe
      Institute, German Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer
      received intellectuals, politicians and journalists
      from the Arab and Muslim world under the rubric of a
      new program entitled "A Dialogue between Islam and the
      West." German intellectuals and representatives seek
      to develop a special and equitable relationship
      between Germany and the Arab and Islamic world, in an
      attempt to distinguish themselves from other
      international players responsible for problematic
      relationships with the Middle East.

      Another motive behind the program, which aims to
      promote mutual understanding, is Germany's continued
      anxiety over Islamic extremism and terrorism. This is
      partly due to recent attacks in Europe, especially
      those against Spanish trains in March that killed
      around 200 people. An official in the German Foreign
      Ministry revealed that there were 150-200 cases under
      investigation of terrorist attacks planned by Islamist
      organizations in Germany.

      Germany has other reasons for wanting a strong
      relationship with the Arab and Muslim world: It is a
      great industrial nation, and the Arab world is one of
      the largest of global markets. There is also the
      presence of a 3 million-strong Muslim community in
      Germany, including 2 million people of Turkish origin.

      Muslim activists in Germany say the gap between their
      community and German society as a whole has been
      widening. This has been especially true since Sept.
      11, 2001. Community leaders say that some German
      families have been contacting the police asking
      whether it is safe for their children to play outside
      in areas where there are mosques or large
      concentrations of Muslims.

      What causes anxiety about religious education, for
      German Muslims and non-Muslims alike, is that some
      teachers do not have the appropriate credentials and
      are transforming religious education into a series of
      fatwas, or Islamic legal decisions, prohibiting
      various activities in society. This has led Muslim
      students to withdraw from German society, which is
      portrayed by the teachers as unbelieving and immoral,
      and from the educational system and cultural life.

      Many Islamist activists sought refuge in Europe
      because of pressures from their governments at home.
      They are now replicating such antagonistic
      relationships with their new governments in Europe.
      Activists in Arab and Turkish cultural centers in
      Germany say that the ideas of self-proclaimed
      religious teachers are often characterized by
      fanaticism. The teachers call on their students to
      distance themselves from the modern city and its
      characteristics, and to reject dialogue with other

      A woman volunteer in an Iraqi cultural center in
      Berlin observed that most of those applying to be
      religious teachers did not have a high level of
      religious education and depended on old and dubious
      texts. She said they urged students to create a
      relationship of confrontation with German society.
      This behavior was picked up by German intelligence,
      and the woman thought it was one reason why many
      Iraqis who had come to Germany in recent years were no
      longer welcome.

      A Turkish youth who manages an Internet and
      communications store in Berlin lamented what he called
      the hatred of Germans toward Turks. He said, "Life
      here is no longer bearable. Germans do not like us. We
      feel very estranged from this society. I must return
      to my country after I make enough money." However, the
      opportunity he and others have to make much money from
      their work is slim, given Germany's economic problems,
      the fact that 4 million people are unemployed and the
      increase in the cost of living.

      Generally, Muslims in Germany face the same problems
      that immigrants face everywhere, including questions
      of identity. Some believe the solution is to
      assimilate into German society, while most are
      determined to be distinguished as a group. This is why
      they establish cultural centers in which they can
      gather and through which they can preserve their
      culture and traditions. Assimilation has its price in
      subverting personality and identity; but distinction
      also has its price. Many Muslim families in Germany
      speak of a crisis in raising their sons and especially
      daughters in an open European society.

      For example, German schools offer mixed swimming
      classes or field trips in which students sleep away
      from home for a few nights. Muslims face a dilemma in
      such a situation. By prohibiting their daughters from
      participating in these programs, they know it will
      merely increase their isolation; but if they are
      allowed to participate, it will create a crisis in the
      Muslim family.

      Perhaps because Germany has a long history of reform,
      German leaders have supported efforts to improve their
      relationship with Muslim communities. One intellectual
      was hopeful about improving relations, partly because
      Germany's history in the Arab world is different than
      that of other Western countries.

      The secretary of a clerical conference in Germany also
      admitted to optimism about the relationship between
      the state and its Muslims.

      He said, "Germany is a country of reform, the land of
      Martin Luther, the country that witnessed a religious
      war between Catholics and Protestants that lasted 30
      years ... but these battles led to the separation of
      church and state. Today we have more than 3 million
      Muslims, and we have to live together and make
      religion a personal matter. This is officially the
      situation, but it needs to be achieved on the ground."

      Mohammad Daraghmeh is an Arab journalist. This
      commentary is published in collaboration with the
      Common Ground News Service (CGNews)

      More about Muslims in Germany at:

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